Original art by @modográfico

Venezuela’s Orwellianly awful Consumer Protection, SUNDDE, is now involved in a strange game of administrative reductio ad absurdum. Last month, they more or less shut down the food retail sector by pioneering a politer-kind-of-looting. SUNDDE officials would raid a store, check prices, scream “speculation” or “hoarding”, force merchants to lower their prices too far below inventory replacement costs, call on Venezuelans to empty store shelves and then hope somehow merchants would allow it to happen all again. A formula applied and perfected since, at least, 2013.

This amounted to little short of confiscation: forcing merchants into financing the populist policies of the Maduro government.

Of course, after the raids of January 2018, supermarkets knew they wouldn’t restock their shelves. They called SUNDDE’s bluff. Since the government doesn’t have enough dollars to fill shelves with imported goods, it had to tuck its tail between its legs and negotiate.

In the logic of the 21st Century Socialism, someone other than the government and its irresponsible economic policies must be to blame.

In a miraculous flash of self-awareness, SUNDDE grasped that their policy was giving precious little reason for retailers to restock, so they actually began issuing “legal assurances”, pledging that, in the future, they wouldn’t face raids and enforcement actions aimed at forcing them to sell at a loss. Pinky promise.

So it was not the shopkeepers’ fault after all. Huh.

In the logic of the 21st Century Socialism, someone other than the government and its irresponsible economic policies must be to blame.

So the government took its witch-hunt up the value chain, to the agrifood industry.

Following Maduro’s lead, on January 16th, Executive Vice President Tareck El Aissami claimed that the prices charged by agroindustrial companies are “criminal” and ordered them to be at December levels. He also instructed Gran Misión Abastecimiento Seguro and SUNDDE to ensure that all companies comply, or “the full weight of the law” would fall on them.

You can bet they’ll go through the whole absurd rigamarole again with farmers. And when farmers get offered “guarantees”, they’ll go after the seed-and-fertilizer companies.

The very next day, SUNDDE started going after agroindustrial companies.

What came next was predictable. The food processors passed the buck. CAVIDEA, the Agribusiness associations, said —reasonably enough— that the rise in prices is due to a rise in input costs and difficulties getting dollars.

Now food processors are being forced to sell off their stocks far below its replacement price, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and, making things worse, the government is using the “contraband” wild card to ban agrifood exports that don’t have a BCV currency certification, suspending sea and air transports to Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.

The Venezuelan Association of Exporters (AVEX), said this decision “turns Venezuelan export companies into unreliable suppliers in the international markets and therefore susceptible of being replaced by another provider.” Against all logic, Maduro’s administration decided to further block exports as a source of foreign currency for the national non-oil industry.

Making life difficult for agro-processors does the opposite than fix the supply problem. Soon, SUNDDE will eventually realize it has to extend the same no-more-raids guarantees to them too, and the sooner the better, since supermarkets are still stripped to the bone two weeks after receiving “legal assurances” to restock.

At which point you can bet they’ll go through the whole absurd rigamarole again with farmers. And when farmers get offered “guarantees”, I guess they’ll go after the seed-and-fertilizer companies, except whoopsie daisy they already expropriated those!

There’s no telling when SUNDDE will realize there’s no end to this. You can keep down the rabbit hole until you’re faced with the real culprits, the ones who set it all in motion: Maduro and the pajarito who whispers sweet nothings in his ear.

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